top-shelf magazines

top-shelf magazines
   Top-shelf magazines are soft-core pornographic magazines, so called because they are displayed on the top shelves of shops, too high for children to reach them. Readily available in Britain in newsagents and petrol station shops, and generally priced at £2–£3, they are sold as an aid to sexual fantasy and masturbation. The top ten titles have combined UK sales estimated at 2 million. The social role of top-shelf magazines sheds insights into British attitudes to sex, and the contrast between private and socially acceptable behaviour. Despite their popularity for private use, generally, outside of all-male environments, use of these magazines remains socially taboo. In a recent legal case a secretary tried to have her manager fired after she found top-shelf magazines in his office. The manager was retained but referred for counselling by his employers, and the secretary resigned in protest. The revelation that the late poet Philip Larkin used pornographic magazines caused a storm of disapproval in intellectual circles. Soft-core is defined as photographs of nude, or more commonly semi-clad women, precluding display of inner genital areas or sexual acts between men and women. Hard-core magazines, often originating in Scandinavia or Holland, which may explicitly portray heterosexual and homosexual acts, along with scenes of female domination, fetishes and corporal punishment, may legally only be acquired through licensed sex shops. In recent years, in the context of an increasingly competitive market, there has been a steady drift towards harder material within top-shelf magazines: for example, the introduction of women in the process of shaving, or shaved of, body hair, posed lesbian scenes with two women, or models clad in fetish or bondage gear. Some magazines, for example Mayfair and Club, feature models of Page Three girls or the stars of pornographic video series. Magazines such as Penthouse feature professional models in glamorous locations. (One hugely popular issue in the 1980s, which included a photoshoot with a Princess Diana lookalike in apparently royal surroundings, sold out in days.) Other titles, such as Escort and Fiesta, trade heavily on ‘readers wives’: polaroid photographs of ‘ordinary’ women usually submitted by their partners, and on letters purported to be from readers detailing their sexual experiences. Some invite contact (via box numbers) with the ‘wives’ in question. This is matched by a general trend towards more explicit captions, and exhortation to masturbation ostensibly urged by the models themselves.
   The market also supports a growing number of specialist magazines whose titles indicate their contents: 40 Plus, Fat and 40, Asian Babes, Skinny and Wriggly and Leg Love. An attempt to open up the market to women in the early 1990s was largely a failure, perhaps due to British obscenity laws which forbid the display of an erect penis. For Women is one exception, which remains in widespread circulation. The magazine market is closely linked to premium-rate phone sex lines. Up to a quarter of the page length of some titles may be devoted to advertising such services, which provide a vital element of the revenue. Several titles have associated websites. By the late 1990s the pornography market had shifted from its main ground to three relatively new areas: ‘lads’ magazines like Loaded and FHM (for softcore), video and the Internet (for hardcore).

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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